NYC Mayor to start emptying jails over virus spread

Even as major crimes aside from murder and rape have been on the rise in New York City, the jail population is about to go down. Probably by a lot. Citing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week that the city would begin releasing people from jail early in a number of different categories. Because when you’ve got a major epidemic disrupting life in your town, what better time to have a bunch more criminals roaming the streets, right? (NY Post)

Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to release “vulnerable” inmates from city jails to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic into local lockups, he said Wednesday.

“In the next 48 hours, we will identify any inmates who need to be brought out because of either their own health conditions — if they have any preexisting conditions, etc. — or because the charges were minor and we think it’s appropriate to bring them out in this context,” de Blasio said on WCBS radio Wednesday evening.

“That said, we still need our criminal justice system to function,” he added.

So there are several categories of prisoners who will be receiving their Get Out of Jail Free cards this week. One group are those over the age of fifty who are considered to have a “low risk of reoffending.” If that’s the case, why were they in jail in the first place?

Prisoners serving terms of less than one year will also (mostly) be released. That’s going to include a lot of street-level drug dealers, as well as those accused of assault or property crimes like retail theft, burglary, and similar offenses. But don’t worry. I’m sure that people who were willing to violate all of those types of laws will absolutely listen to the Governor’s shelter in place orders and not go around breaking into people’s apartments.

Maybe it’s just my faulty memory, but I thought all of the major jails and prisons in the region had medical facilities right on the premises. Wouldn’t you think that a facility full of jail cells would be pretty well set up for isolating sick people? Particularly when some of those cells are specifically labeled as “isolation?” It just seems as if you’re running more of a risk of spreading the disease by dumping them back out on the streets instead of keeping them where you know where they are and who they are coming in contact with.

Hizzoner has the city Board of Corrections on his side, however. They’re saying that the prisoner release needs to start immediately.

It’s not that I don’t understand the concerns being expressed here. If the virus gets loose inside of the jails and really spreads, it will not only endanger the guards and the rest of the staff, but it would probably overwhelm their medical facilities pretty quickly. But at the same time, New York is already starting to look like a scene out of Mad Max in some places. Is this really the best time to start emptying the jails and telling the law-abiding residents that they’ll need to fend for themselves?

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